I sort of take Tony Bourdain with the tiniest, nano grain of sand. I enjoy some of his TV programs (Parts Unknown), and they have improved exponentially over his original show, No Reservations on the Travel Channel. I did not care for his cocaine laced book, nor did I enjoy his “concert” filled with expletives. But he does list several dangerous places in the world, two of which Mr. Mike and I have visited.
Myanmar or Burma
“Bourdain and his crew headed to Myanmar in 2013, once the government has opened their borders to tourists, to film the series premiere of Parts Unknown. The country long suffered from political strife and lived under the control incredibly repressive and corrupt military regime, where Tom Vitale, who traveled with Bourdain to shoot the episode in Myanmar (among many other places) said, “…we were shocked that nobody seemed to be watching us. I mean, even just a couple years ago, if you were seen talking to a westerner in Burma, someone would take down your name, and there would be a knock on your door at 2 in the morning.” Despite the overpowering regime, Bourdain was pleasantly surprised to see how open, warm, and gregarious locals were with him and his crew.”
My words: The obvious political change, according to our local guide, is the freedom of the press. Used and new English language books, from authors ranging from Orwell to Kerouac, and Thoreau to Sinclair were highly visible at most street side stalls. It was a joy to see. Something we take for granted here at home, is now a big deal there. I almost wanted to buy a book, even though I did not need one!
And we did not see or feel much police or military presence in our travels, either in Rangoon (now called Yangon), or out in the countryside. I expected to see more security at shrines like the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. But the Burmese are a peaceful and devout people. Their culture is a polite and quiet one. I loved their soft spoken and spiritual ways. It will be interesting to see how the country evolves into the 21st century, and technological innovation.
“A small and relatively untouched country in Southeast Asia, Laos has a tragic past and still bears scars from the Vietnam War. Though there is no threat of war or bombs like in other countries he’s visited, Laos was a bombing target during the Vietnam war and much of the land is still a literal minefield — especially in the countryside — waiting to explode. Bourdain watches as the country’s UXO, or unexploded ordinance, team searches for unexploded bombs and shells hidden throughout Laos.”
My words: If you remember my email about my visit to Laos, one of the most startling observations were the craters on the hillsides, the result of our “secret” bombing during the Vietnam War. But we found the country charming, unspoiled, friendly, and interesting. I would certainly go back someday.
But the unexploded ordinance is still a problem. They had a small “museum”, which was really nothing more than some empty shell casings, and many, many photos of victims, and scenes where accidental explosions occurred. It certainly precipitated the need for us to donate to their cause. And we certainly did not venture out into the fields without a guide or a well-worn path to follow. We even visited a rocky hillside bomb shelter.
You will not find me in the Middle East, or any countries known to harbor terrorist cells, like Venezuela, the Philippines, Indonesia, or west central Africa. But I found nothing even remotely dangerous about Laos or Burma. I actually found the Cambodian military somewhat intimidating as we passed through their Immigration checkpoints. Costa Rica military with automatic weapons, are stationed all over the country, at banks, government offices, and shopping malls. Pick and choose your countries wisely, but realize there is danger everywhere! Crossing the street here in America is more dangerous than crossing the street in busy and frenetic Hanoi!!